Internet Law

Verdict looms in first Canadian criminal case involving claimed Twitter harassment

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Was it criminal harassment, or merely, as the defendant’s lawyer contends, “an ugly political debate”?

That is the question a Canadian court must answer, as a verdict looms in what is believed to be the country’s first criminal case over posts made on Twitter.

Gregory Alan Elliott of Toronto is charged with two counts of criminal harassment concerning his interaction on Twitter with local women’s rights activists Stephanie Guthrie and Heather Reilly, the Canadian Press reports.

The two say they were fearful for their safety after angry tweets escalated in 2012. Elliott seemingly continued to follow them on social media even though they had blocked him on Twitter, they allege.

However, attorney Chris Murphy stressed that his client never threatened the women or made sexual comments about them, and said they made similar comments to Elliott.

Canada’s criminal law bans individuals from knowingly or recklessly harassing someone in a manner that reasonably causes them to fear for their safety, the article explains.

As in the U.S., the country’s law includes free speech protections, noted attorney David Grossman of Montreal. Like many others, he has been following news of the case with interest.

“There’s certainly a message that’s going to be sent out, one way or the other,” by the verdict, he said, “and it will be interesting to see what that message is and how people interpret that and how people react afterward.”

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